“It’s like I have put my family into prison with me because many of my conditions apply to my family too. Before my children could at least have some privacy at home and some freedom, but I felt like I had brought another problem with me (by) staying with them.”

Sulaiman and Amal were filled with hope when they arrived in the UK from Algeria, finally looking forward to a life of freedom and to raising their one year old son and their unborn child who was due in a few months.

“I had big expectations; I wanted to see justice and freedom for everyone”

Those dreams were brutally shattered one night, just after fajr, when police came charging in. Amal froze. Her heart began thunderously beating against her chest, her head suddenly weighed unbearably down on her, and as she watched her husband being dragged away, she began to scream. When she tried to move, she fainted.

“She lost her conscious (sic). She can’t remember what happened after that.”

Amal woke up screaming later on her living room sofa to find policemen at either side of her. Struggling to take in what had happened, she realised that in all the commotion, she hadn’t eaten that day. Her son was hungry too, but to her dismay she realised that her shelves were empty. Fear dawned on Amal, she realised she would have to go out and try to buy some food. Seemingly a simple task, but for Amal, who was new to the country, unable to speak a word of English, with an inbuilt anxiety of strangers, the prospect was terrifying. Until that time, she had relied on her husband to do everything.

“I don’t have any food at home at this time. I’m scared to go out because the area is just English people. I’m scared to go out and for people to attack me or say something bad to me.”

When she thought that things could not get worse, Amal’s landlord issued her an eviction notice. Without recourse to benefits as a foreign national, she was left begging the few friends she made to take her in.

“I was the breadwinner and so when I left them, they had nothing. The money left she had to use to pay the final rent.”

While most doors were shut in their faces, some people took pity on Amal and her son. She spent the next few months living from door to door, with no place to call home.  She applied to the Home Office for leave to remain so that she could obtain some kind of status, but until then, her situation was dire. One month she spent in a hotel, dirty with poor facilities and little food.  Eventually she was moved from city to city, but in each instance far from the Muslim community and to hostile, racist neighbourhoods.   With the crushing stress of being a single parent, in a strange place and with no support, Amal suffered a nervous breakdown.

“I never thought that one day something like this would happen to me. I can’t imagine that my life could be so bad…nobody came, people were scared.”

Meanwhile, Sulaiman had expected to be taken in for questioning, for there to be some sort of due-process.  Instead he was taken straight to prison, without even being questioned, where he was held without charge or trial for years.

Sulaiman knew how vulnerable his wife would be without him. He was desperate to get in touch with her, but he was deprived of a conversation with his family for months. Those days became the darkest of Sulaiman’s life; with the passing of every minute came countless thoughts about his wife and children.

“You spend all your time just thinking, even when I was asleep my brain was awake and thinking about what is going to happen to me and my family. I was constantly down, worrying about what would happen to her, if the baby was safe or even who would be with her when she gives birth. You’re always in pain and worried. It affects your ability to cope because you’re not in peace.”

With all his worries for his family and without any recourse to prove his innocence, Sulaiman became increasingly frustrated and emotional. To his own dismay, he spiralled deeper into depression.

“I was a very calm person, but it changes your character completely, the way you see things and the way you react to things…. I was very depressed and I didn’t think I would reach that stage.”

Eventually, after the birth of their second child, Amal was able to visit Sulaiman. But each visit was bitter sweet. Sulaiman was finally setting his eyes on his new born child but in the meagre hourly visits, he couldn’t satisfy an ounce of his longing for his family.

“It’s good to see your family but at the time you are anxious about the time and you feel angry, because in a moment the visit is over and they have vanished, and you don’t know when the next visit is going to happen.”

“I put my family in prison with me”

For six long years, Amal and Sulaiman struggled through every day, not knowing when he would be released.  Eventually Sulaiman was released on draconian bail conditions: forever wearing an electronic tag, not being allowed computers, mobiles, internet access or visitors in the house without Home Office approval. His movement would be restricted to a certain boundary and he had to endure a curfew of up to 22 hours in his home each day. It was as if Sulaiman had been transferred from one prison to another, but this time encapsulating his family too:

“It’s like I have put my family into prison with me because many of my conditions apply to my family too. Before my children could at least have some privacy at home and some freedom, but I felt like I had brought another problem with me (by) staying with them.”

Sulaiman and his family were subjected to raids at any time of day or night to check that the tag was working. On one occasion, their youngest son Yusuf began to panic. He watched as the police officer took away his play station and questioned his dad, and he burst into tears at the thought of losing his father again. Sulaiman and Amal would work hard to console him, but with the smallest of progress came a new raid, a new reminder about just how little control they had over their lives.

“Sometimes they can be twice a week, or sometimes once a week. Every time you hear a knock at the door you think it’s because they are there.  Every time there is a knock on the door, I can see it in their eyes that they are scared that they are coming to take me away”.

Amal too became increasingly isolated. Under the SIAC conditions, she wasn’t allowed visitors without clearance checks.

“Now they stopped coming to see her so she doesn’t have friends. People start distance themselves from you. So we’ve become kind of isolated from the community and our friends.”

The pressure on Amal became unbearable. Three months after Sulaiman’s release, she tragically suffered a miscarriage.

“I was already psychologically unstable but this made things worse than ever.”

At the same time, the stress of being caged in his own home, powerless to assist Amal in any way, was crippling Sulaiman.

“With the tag you feel humiliated as a human being. You’re not in control of your life anymore, and they are. You are always worried that something was wrong with (the tag) and you could be blamed for it and be taken back. When you leave the home you are constantly worried…. If you are late by even a minute you can loose your freedom again so I was constantly checking the time, making sure I had to be home. So it’s like you’re not free, it’s a different kind of punishment…now you live with internal fear.”

Those fears were realised when one day Sulaiman was accused of tampering with his tag and immediately taken into custody again. Seeing his father torn from him, Yusuf developed an anxiety disorder and began to wet himself, day and night. Sulaiman was released again a few days later, but the raids and conditions only got worse, deepening his stress and anxiety.

“When he came home, it was like he was a broken man. He was sleeping a lot and he wouldn’t want to sit with us. When the kids would want to play, he would constantly tell them to be careful, it was like he was always very stressed”.

Eventually, in 2011, Sulaiman was taken back to prison. But it would be years, this time, before he was released.


HHUGS Was There Through Every Step

HHUGS heard about Amal a few months after Sulaiman was first arrested.  The key-worker assigned to Amal could see she was struggling with anxiety at the prospect of completing basic tasks, so she eased her into life without her husband by accompanying her around town, helping her learn to get around. Over the course of her journey, sisters from HHUGS would continue to be there for Amal, supporting her emotionally and practically.

“When I didn’t know anyone and I hadn’t seen people in a long time these very, very nice sisters came for me. They would take me to their house, take me for shopping and sometimes they would just come over and bring toys for the children. It made me so happy just to think that I have someone supporting me. I feel like I am strong with them, like I’m not alone anymore.

“It was like she started building a new family”

HHUGS began providing her with extensive financial support. For years they have provided her with monthly food vouchers due to the minimal allowance she was given.  To ensure that Amal and her children could see Sulaiman, HHUGS volunteers would drive her to see him in prison despite the hundreds of miles between them. In Winter, they sent Amal vouchers for clothing, to make sure their needs were always being accommodated for. To alleviate the trauma that had accumulated over the years, they provided professional culturally-sensitive counselling.

“All these years, every time I asked for something, they would help me.”

Recognising that the children needed some extra support with their father being indefinitely detained for over 16 years, HHUGS paid for their tuition fees and madrasah. They paid for sports classes and volunteers would regularly take them on small outings.

“They would take the children out to activities, like gatherings, or sometimes to the park, to the playground. My son wouldn’t see anyone else because we had to stay so local but with HHUGS around he was able to see other children; when the sisters came to my house they would bring their children and so my son had someone to play with. That was a relief, because I was depressed at that time and I couldn’t play with him. I remember my son was very happy when they came, it was like someone from his own family was coming to see him.”

Eid and Ramadhan were an especially difficult time for the family. For more than 15 years, it was filled with either the sadness of Sulaiman’s absence or restricted to celebrating within their small boundary.

“It’s very important to Muslims…when you’re not with (your family) during that time, it’s very hard. But HHUGS they help to make that difference, they managed to bring some happiness to the family and some comfort so they cannot feel they’re alone. In Ramadhan they would take her shopping. For Eid, they would take them to a special party. Sometimes they sent a brother to take the kids to Eid prayer, so it doesn’t feel like they are by themselves. So it was very big support, especially during Eid and Ramadhan which is quite special for Muslims.”

Amal and Sulaiman want the community to know just how important it is to support HHUGS…

“No one is safe from having to go through these types of things. Today it was me; tomorrow it could be you, your friend or a member of your family. That’s why is important to acknowledge HHUGS support. I can’t imagine how we would have coped without HHUGS support.

“The charity relied on two things, volunteers and donations, without which they wouldn’t survive. You need to support them for the sake of the families, for the sake of innocent people who have been unlawfully oppressed and for the sake of children.”

Amal struggled to imagine what her life may have been like without HHUGS’ support:

Maybe the kids would not be there. Maybe I’m hospital, depression, like this. It’s hard to think like this….”

After eleven years, Sulaiman’s SIAC deportation order was finally dropped, but he and Amal have continued to struggle with their immigration case and until then, they are unable to work or apply for benefits. HHUGS’ support, in the form of monthly rent and utility bill payments, has been critical at this juncture.  It’s not an easy journey, but HHUGS are still there with them, every step of the way…

Happiness, yeah, HHUGS brings happiness, happiness to the families. If you want to bring happiness to the families who have been oppressed, support HHUGS.